The Resurrection of DVDs

I will admit to laughing at people who collect DVDs. I’ve considered it a giant waste of money and space. But now I’m started to wonder if I was wrong.

Samsung announced recently that they’re done producing new Blu-Ray players. It was seen as the first domino to fall in the inevitable death of physical media for film.

This set off a panic among some DVD and Blu-Ray enthusiasts, but it delighted others who have kept DVD collections, or make a living off of selling rare DVDs. Why? There’s a perceived scarcity coming and streaming advocates may be on the wrong side.

There are advantages to DVDs and Blu-Rays we give up when we rely on streaming services:

  • They often include commentary, documentaries, and bonus features unavailable on streaming services (or even in later releases of the same DVD). These features are sometimes suppressed by studios if the latest batch of executives didn’t care for the originals.

  • You own the film and can watch it whenever you like (as opposed to whenever Netflix decides you can watch it). Even when you “buy” a movie online, it’s really just a license to access it, totally dependent on the whims of studios, streaming companies, the market in general, and new/changing laws.

  • You can watch the version you prefer. Movie and television studios are constantly tinkering with their releases, removing songs, editing endings, and changing who shot first. Typically there’s only one version of a film available for streaming or buying online, and it’s probably not the best — it’s the most palatable to the masses.

  • They allow small, indie studios to make money when they are ignored by streaming services.

  • They make classic films more accessible. Classic films are rarely available on streaming services and cable. When they are, what’s available is often the most well-known, and doesn’t include the smaller films you may love (if you got the chance). The DVD craze of 20 years ago gave re-birth to many classic films that might have been totally lost without the profits possible from a physical form of media.

  • You can sell, trade, or pass them along. Again, you own them. Rare and out-of-print DVDs are actually a blossoming business right now. What will happen when they grow even more scarce?

  • You can get them real cheap, new or used, for now. On Black Friday, Blu-Rays are dirt cheap. At thrift stores, they’re practically free. Parents know how much milage can be had from a Pixar DVD, proving they can be dirt cheap even at full price.

  • They’re free to rent at your library.

  • They don’t rely on a connection.

  • They’re privacy-friendly. Netflix, Hulu, Google and Amazon are watching you while you watch that movie.

  • They allow for more and better bootlegs. If your film has enough fans, it will spawn new versions, or foster the environment needed for the “release” of studio versions that the public was never meant to see. These versions may be downloadable with some effort, but they will probably never be streamable from a legitimate service.

  • They encourage and preserve music documentary and concert footage. My favorite concerts and musician’s videos are being removed or copyright-stricken from YouTube by the labels. These artists (even the big ones) have no intention of ever releasing streaming versions of this material and the streaming services have no interest anyway. We’re probably losing access to performances every day we’ll never see again. Some were only released in the first place due to the music VHS gold rush of the late 80s/early 90s and music DVD gold rush of the late 90s/early 2000s. This doesn’t even include the bootleg concerts I’ve loved watching on YouTube. I hope someone is capturing them somewhere before it’s too late.

  • They can be superior in quality to the streaming version. I put this as the last reason, because (to me) it’s the least important reason. Some of my favorite films never made it to Blu-Ray, let alone 4K discs or Netflix. If the film isn’t even available, quality doesn’t matter. The best quality version a concert film from the 80s may be on VHS. That’s better than nothing.

I’m not going to kid myself. Streaming is the (near) future of media. And I may be too old to care by the time it all shakes out. But if recent history has taught us anything, from books to vinyl, physical media will always have a market. Cassettes are even making a comeback!

Maybe in 20 years there will be enough nostalgia for all the points I made above to trigger a resurrection in physical media for film along with boutique, retro playing devices sold by Shinola.

As for my like-minded minimalist friends who embraced streaming media to cut down on their physical libraries, I pose this question: Is spending more money on less enjoyable things really minimalist?

If you have a favorite movie, or TV show, I recommend grabbing the physical version you love on the cheap while you can. It will last you for at least the rest of your lifetime. It’ll look good on a shelf next to your favorite books, and in a few decades you’ll have the jump on the next generation of hipsters.